by bj max

Sugar Booger and I had to pick up an old family heirloom up in the tiny rural community where I was born and raised. My Mom and Dad had bought a cedar chest right after WW-II and my brother was passing it down to us. The warranty, price, date of purchase and the guarantee were still stapled in the inner lid and we learned that it was bought just after VJ day, 1945. It was expensive for the time and my parents evidently splurged in the giddiness of the hour.

After visiting with my brother and his wife for a bit, we headed back to the big city. Nearing Memphis we slowly rolled through the little speed trap of Gallaway, TN. Off to our right, we noticed a couple of bikes waiting at the stop sign where Cemetery Road intersects with Highway 70. They sat idling and zapping the throttles as they waited for us and the several cars that followed, to go by. The bikes appeared to have vintage knucklehead engines but were most likely S&S knockoffs. Their rumbling idle could be heard in the cab of my pickup despite the windows being rolled up and the A/C straining at full blast. The riders were really slicked up too and something about them said educated and clean cut. Probably investment bankers on their way to bike night.

We made it through Gallaway without getting a ticket then accelerated quickly back to highway speeds. Just after crossing the Hatchie River, we were again slowed by a stoplight, this one having recently been installed due to a new sub-division going up in the middle of what was once prime farmland. The two-lane had been widened just enough to squeeze in a new and very short dump lane for left turners. But this was a narrow highway, what truckers call a skinny road, with narrow shoulders that dropped off several feet and could easily flip a vehicle if it veered over the white line. In other words, the whole configuration was tight.

Naturally, the light caught us along with two cars behind us. While we waited I heard the distinct rumble of those two V-twins. I glanced in my mirror and could just barely make them out rolling up behind our queue of three vehicles. They sure did sound good and that lazy loping idle brought back memories of a much younger me.

The stoplight flickered, then turned green. I eased down on the pedal and just as I began to move I heard a roar like thunder. I glanced in my left mirror. Just what I thought. That danged knucklehead had pulled out and was passing all of us right up the middle of that short dump lane. He roared by so close I could have reached out and slapped him. My first instinct was to jerk the steering wheel to the right but before doing so I remembered that second bike. Where did he go? I took a quick peek into the right hand mirror and sure enough, there he was, roaring around us on the shoulder. Now I’ve got two motorcycles blasting past me with maybe a foot to spare on either side and absolutely no escape if something goes haywire.

They roared by, bellowing like a couple of Massy-Fergusons at a tractor pull, scaring the crap out of us, then speeding off into the distance. I couldn’t believe the glorious recklessness of it all. After a couple miles, Sugar Booger and I settled down a bit and got a grip on our nerves and then I got mad.

I looked at Sugar Booger. “Can you believe those two nincompoops? If I could just get my hands on em.” Then, as if fate stepped in to assist, I spotted ‘em up ahead pulling into a gas station. What luck. I told Sugar Booger to hang on ‘cause I was gonna’ follow those guys into that station and kick their tail. “Kick whose tail?” she asked. “Those two knuckleheads ridin’ those two knuckleheads, that’s who.”

“You can’t kick their tail,” she snapped. Then, as an afterthought, “You can’t even kick my tail. You ain’t no spring chicken you know.”

If you’re an older guy you will understand where I’m coming from here. No matter how old and flabby you get, no matter how frail, when you look in the mirror you go stone blind. You refuse to see the sagging muscles, the age spots and the double chin, the stooped shoulders and the folds of the turtle neck you’re sporting. Nope. You don’t see all that. All you see is the young and virile male you once were and inside you feel like you’re still a bad-ass and can take on the world. Of course nothing could be further from the truth, but the illusion can still get you in a whole peck of trouble.

I whipped into the station and pulled straight into the pump blocking one of the knuckleheads. He looked up just as I yelled, “Hey, I guess you know you guys just scared the crap out of us back there.”

“Back where?” he asked.

“You know where I’m talking about. Back at the new stoplight. Your memory ain’t that bad.”

The guy started walking towards us while his partner looked on from another pump. As he got closer to the truck he also got bigger and the movie “Wild Hogs” suddenly came to mind. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

He walked right up to the window, rested his elbows on the sill, leaned in and stared at me a minute with dead cold eyes then said, “Gosh Mister. I sure am sorry. We didn’t mean to scare you.”

“You passed me on the yellow line and your buddy passed me on the shoulder at the same time. What’s the matter with you guys? If I hadn’t seen y’all waiting at the stop sign back in Gallaway, I wouldn’t have known to look for a second rider and just might have jerked this steering wheel away from you and right into your buddy.” He acted like he didn’t know his buddy passed me on the right and pretended to be appalled at such reckless behavior as if his actions were justifiable.

But I calmed down pretty quick. They were so nice and polite I couldn’t stay mad at ‘em so I went into Grandfather mode and gave ‘em a good talking to. I explained that what upset me more than anything was that I might have killed somebody due to their stupidity and then have to live with it the rest of my life. They were very apologetic and listened patiently as I preached safety, the rules of the road and of our concern for them and all motorcyclists.

We finally parted on good terms and I couldn’t help but wonder if they learned anything from this old man that’s survived forty years in the saddle. Hard to say, but at least they humored me and pretended they did. Maybe the fact that I followed ‘em into that station might stick in their mind and make them realize that someday they might scare the wrong person and a real bad-ass might be on their trail.




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